Kassandra Thatcher + Simone Bodmer-Turner
Next up on the IK Journal, artists Simone Bodmer-Turner and Kassandra Thatcher. Simone + Kassandra are ceramic artists sharing a studio, and sometimes a joint practice, in their gorgeous studio at the Sculpture Space NYC. Ilana became interested in learning more about Simone's work after meeting her through a mutual friend during a Sight Unseen Offsite event earlier this summer! After learning about her studio mate and dear friend, Kassandra, Ilana was thrilled to go hang with the pair at their space and hear about their creative process as well as their journey from friends to collaborators. The two artists showed IK through their studio while trying on some of their selections from the AW18 collection. If you're curious to see Simone's work in person, she will have an opening at La Garconne, in New York, Thursday, September 20.
How did you two meet?
SBT: When I got back from the residency I did in Japan two years ago (the same one I leave for in October), I did a pop up with the tea bowls that had come out of the anagama firing. Kassandra stopped by and we got into romanticizing about Japan/ clay/sculpture. She was also a ceramic artist and happened to be working out of the studio I was looking into working out of. We wound up working together there for a bit, and when I went into a residency at Saipua and needed extra hands I offered the position to Kass before I opened it up. She came on board and we really got to know each other over building vessels all bundled up in a warehouse only heated by a fireplace, breaking for sardine sandwiches and celery soda.
KT: It’s funny because my thought in checking out the pop-up, which was fueled entirely by Simone being there, was not about meeting her but about meeting her work. I wanted to pick up her tea bowls and turn them over, finger the caverns and grooves and really see them. I was dying to ask her about her process and do a little geeking out. I never thought it would move into this slow, deep friendship I so cherish. Yeah, I remember that fall at Saipua so fondly. We really fell hard into a groove, just kind of immediately like “oh wow, yeah, you get it… you get all of it.”
On the Left: Simone (l) wears the Tuck in Umber with Kassandra (r) rocking the Edie Tank Natural and the Huxie pants denim. On the right: Kassandra's ceramic lamp base (l) paired with Simone's single stem vessels (r).
You both clearly find inspiration in similar places. Which extends to, I'm sure, simply being inspired by each other's work! Would love to hear more about that and how working in such close physical proximity to each other potentially informs each other's work?
SBT: We definitely pull our inspiration from overlapping sculptors, architects, designers, and landforms. Often midcentury, though of course, the landforms are timeless (or are they? protect your planet, people). There’s my predictable hippie potter comment for the day. We are always sending each other new weird forms we scrounge up from the depths of the internet, and we can always rely on each other to be down for the same openings/flea market perusal, but when we aren’t working as a unit on a project we very much go into our independent zones with our clay. But when I get stuck, Kassandra is the first person I go to to ask if she can see something amiss that I can’t sort out and vice versa. I always trust that she’ll be able to understand what I’m trying to achieve.
KT: We’re cut from the same cloth in many ways — a funny moment for context is when Ilana approached us about this feature Simone texted me something along the lines of, “well finally we’ll be intentionally matching in our cream jumpsuits”; it’s an earth-toned cloth that’s mildly obsessed with excavating forms, styles, artist’s ethos’ from the depths of the internet and old, torn books. When I discover, say, a video where an artist is working with an obscure and fascinating technique, I’m immediately running over to Simone. If you ever witness it you’ll probably see us quite literally shaking with excitement. What I love most about this cloth, if I’m going to keep this metaphor going, is that where it begins to fray is where it gets most exciting, and where I think Simone and I find ourselves most inspired by one another. And that space is what Simone is so pointedly articulating — when either of us pull the other over because a curve of an arm or a lick of negative space just isn’t right and we’re stuck. It’s rare to find a partner who you trust so wholly to understand your vision, and trust to give you the feedback you need, even if it’s not what you necessarily want to hear. I think this is especially wonderful for us as we start to think about collaborating. Neither of us has to pull back or compromise on the work we want to create; rather, it’s quite like building — adding, taking away, modifying, crafting motion, listening.
Kassandra lounging in the Edie Tank and Huxie pants, both in Natural.
What is your favorite thing about each other's work?
SBT: The tenderness with which Kassandra interacts with clay is one of the most humble and beautiful relationships I have witnessed between an artist and their medium. I definitely have a few photos on my phone of her taking a break from building for a moment with her arms wrapped around her sculpture, nuzzling / resting her head on top of it. I admire her endless curiosity about new forms and the freedom she gives herself to explore her inclinations. I love the way her work holds space in a room. The forms are simple, gestural, and completely magnetic. She sees form in a way I feel I sometimes lose sight of in the throes of production; with the mind of a poet, which she is. Her future work will clearly not be limited to clay form, but many extensions of sculpture.
KT: There’s a certain devotion I see in Simone, one that’s born from a continual remembrance of clay as mud. How silly, she’ll whisper to me, that we forget this. It is stunning to observe her practice; a vignette: the style with which she burnishes a vessel, at once delicate and indestructible motion. What I have learned from observations like these is invaluable; the most Simone-like and perhaps my most favorite is how sacred and yet completely elemental clay is, how maybe that sacredness is strengthened as the clay is worked through your hands. I admire her appetite to search for form; she finds shapes in the most curious of places — the underbellies that go unnoticed. I love how familiar her work feels, as though I almost know it, as though I’ve felt before that same lurch in my stomach of excitement when I look upon the curve; an accumulation and an homage, in a way, to all the forms before. Simone’s a virtuoso with glaze technique, she will deny this but it’s true. It’s the aspect of her work I’m most thrilled about right now. What she’s achieving as far as color and texture on her vessels is setting the tone for all of us making work right now.
Kassandra (l) is wearing the Tia Coverall in Umber and Simone (r) is in the Henry Coverall in Natural.
Tell us a little bit about your work/process!
SBT: My conceptualization and building process usually starts with a form catching my eye — though I rarely get attached to an entire form. More often it’s not a singular form but a collection of parts: a chunky foot, a certain curve of a belly, an angle of a lip, a funky arm. Then these parts that separately intrigue me get combined into one piece that draws from multiple original forms, leaving room to fill in the gaps with unintentional and unexpected connecting bridges and walls. Occasionally I set out to copy an original form in order to learn it’s curves and bulges, and in the building process, it inevitably alters itself from what I set out to copy. A notable example of this is the Peruvian Stirrup Vessel, that was taken quite literally from an original form that held me and moved me. I had never seen anything like it before and set out to re-create it. Mine is much different in function and form than the first piece that caught my eye in the Americas section of the Permanent Collection at the Met, but there is something valuable to be learned from making a copy.
After spending the last 10 months developing what I feel to be my personal Permanent Collection (though I’m sure this will evolve over time, retiring some forms that don’t speak to me anymore and adding in new discoveries), I am working to streamline and expand my production, move into a space that is more my own, and hire a studio assistant to help me take on the quantity and scale of projects I am currently having to turn down because I am at my personal capacity and have no interest in being a human factory. Once I get a good groove going with that support system on production, I intend to focus more fully on sculptural endeavors, the first of which I am showing for the first time in New York next week (Thursday, September 20th). It’s all very exciting and surreal, and I am endlessly grateful for all the support from this community that has buoyed me up in this last year as I’ve fully committed myself to this work which has been the most terrifying and gratifying endeavor I’ve undertaken yet.
KT: I’m beginning to realize I treat my body of work and style with unusual care. I’ve become quite fond of the idea of someone reaching an impasse when attempting to define my work, straining to label it with any tangible word. I think that comes from my background as a student of poetics — having graduated with a BA in Poetry — where you’re essentially studying the subtleties within how form informs language and how language informs the world. I find joy in challenging people who feel certain about their perspective. I’ve been told I evoke a particular palette — what I mean to say is, no matter how disparate the things I wear or surround myself with are, they always seem to fit within an essence of myself. So I think that’s been extending into my work, and I’m really happy with that; with the idea of how works with different clay bodies, different purposes, sizes, eras of inspiration, can fit under an umbrella that’s simply and clearly understood as work I’ve made. Right now I’m really interested in making lamps and building these fat, bulbous sculptures that appear without form beyond they’re simple spherical shape, but say, as you spin the piece, the shape transforms completely, creating new silhouettes.
I’ve always described my process of physically making work as quite brutal. I’m really working with the clay, in a way trying to understand what it wants to do and letting the clay shape itself. I’m terrible at sketching, and usually go into a new piece with just a mental picture of what I want, and try to see what happens along the way. An experiment in improvisational sculpture, perhaps?
My process begins and is always interspersed with spending time gathering images of the shapes and forms around me, and those created by other makers. I went to Brimfield this past weekend and noticed myself gravitating toward all the antique tools, the handles or actual apparatus’. I took tons of photos and tinkered with pieces and was getting really excited about all the strange shapes. So I know that when I get back into the studio, I’ll find myself building a piece that’s an accumulation of all those tools I touched.
I like to know what has come before me, to read about how those makers came to their own styles. It’s important for me to have all of it piled up in my mind so that I have knowledge in front of me of what’s behind me as I get to the work table, and from there I can decide how I’ll treat all that history as I begin to build a new form.
Left: Kassandra and Simone's sculptures. Right: Kassandra (l) in the Mabel Jacket, Umber with the Huxie Pant in Natural + Simone wearing the Mabel Coveralls in denim.